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What is RT2020 and how will it affect you?

Whether you own a house in France, are renovating or building one, or work on French houses as an artisan, you need to be aware of something called RT2020 – a set of building regulations designed to help reduce and offset carbon emissions. In fact, even those of us who don’t fall into those categories could do with brushing up on the subject, since we’ll all be affected ultimately. Here, in the first of a series of blogs on the subject, we tackle the seemingly simple question: What is RT2020 and how will it affect you?

What is RT2020?

RT2020 is the latest update to a set of building regulations laid out by the French government to reduce carbon emissions. It builds on the concept of reducing energy waste, by incorporating new obligations to increase renewable energy production, too.

It was due to come into effect at the end of 2020, but due to the global pandemic, the updated regulations won’t be applied until the summer of 2021. In the meantime, anyone involved in the construction of a building should apply the ‘thermal standard’ set out in RT2012 – and anyonewith an interest in French property should get clued up as to how the updated (and much further reaching) regulations could affect them in the future.

Errm, what’s RT2012?

If you’re an artisan working in the area of construction, then you’ll know the answer to this already – or at least, you should! RT2012 is all about reducing energy waste. It specifies that all new private buildings must consume no more than 50 kWh / m² per year – which means putting lots of thought into things such as heating, cooling, hot water production, lighting, fans and pumps. This standard of low energy-use buildings (also known as ‘bâtiment de basse consummation’, or BBC) also applies to private buildings that are being renovated.

The rules are different for new public buildings, however; in 2018, an update to the thermal regulations (or ‘réglementation thermique’) added a new obligation for them to be based on the principle of ‘positive energy buildings’ – that is, buildings that produce more than, or equal to, the energy than they consume. You’ll often see these kinds of buildings referred to as BEPOS (Bâtiment Energie POSitif).

So, what do the RT2020 regulations say, exactly?

With the introduction of RT2020, the principle of ‘positive energy’ will underpin the design, construction and habitation of all new buildings – i.e. both public and private. The minimum standard will be that of a ‘passive house’ – one whereby energy consumption is matched by energy production – but with the goal of becoming a positive energy building eventually. According to law firm, Thomson Reuters, the new regulations take energy efficiency to an entirely new level:

“The purpose of these new standards is to move from essentially thermal regulations to environmental regulations and to take into account greenhouse gases throughout the building’s lifecycle, that is from construction to demolition.”

What this means, of course, is that we also need a deep shift in the mindset of the individuals and citizens who use buildings. As one French renewable energy firm points out, “technological developments which reduce the consumption of our equipment are not sufficient to reach the threshold of zero energy waste … it is the evolution of our behaviour (and the education of our children) that will enable us to respect the RT2020 standard.”

What else do the new regulations say?

Somewhat confusingly, the new regulations allow for greater total energy use than the current ones (100 kwh / m² / year compared to 50kwh). But they also require as many households as possible to produce enough of their own energy to meet their needs and more. In effect, the focus has moved from minimising energy waste, to increasing energy production. As such, every BEPOS house must have the capacity to produce enough energy to exceed the inhabitants’ use of five distinct utilities: heating, lighting, hot water, air conditioning, and auxiliaries.

What all this means, of course, is that along with incorporating methods of saving energy, such as proper insulation, all new buildings will need to incorporate renewable energy systems for producing electricity (e.g. Photovoltaic panels, aerovolatics, and wind turbines), heating (e.g. Heat pumps, geothermal systems, solar power), hot water (e.g. Thermodynamic and solar power systems), and water (e.g. Rainwater harvesting). Such systems currently often come at a greater financial cost than more outdated ones.

What’s all this got to do with me?

Although RT2020 could be interpreted as a set of regulations that only apply to those involved with buying, renovating, or constructing a building, there’s plenty of reason for the rest of us to pay attention, too. RT2020 is essentially a vision – of a world that has been brought back from the brink of climate extinction, no less! But creating more and more buildings alone – even if they are BEPOS – isn’t going to get us to that point. Ultimately, we’ll need all our buildings, old and new, to be BEPOS. In the meantime, we need all the people who use them (or will use them) to change the way they behave inside them (e.g. switching off lights, unplugging chargers, closing shutters, defrosting the freezer, etc).

That said, there are specific implications if you currently fall into one of the following categories:

French residents with no plans to build or renovate

  • Even if you’re not planning on getting any building work done, you might want to consider doing so. Financial help / state aid (e.g. advantageous loans, MaPrimeRénov, tax credits, and Energy Saving bonuses) is currently available to encourage all homeowners to make changes that will improve their energy consumption and enable them to begin producing energy. You must use an RGE registered artisan to qualify for these benefits, however.
  • One day, you or someone in your family will need to sell your house, and when this happens, there’ll be a diagnostic report to determine your DPE (energy) rating. This is likely to affect the value of your house, as no-one will want (or be able to afford!) a dirty great carbon footprint. Consider getting some work done now, and you could save yourself a lot of heartache, money, and hassle in the future.

Second homeowners & prospective buyers

  • If you’re thinking about buying property in France, then you’d be wise to keep RT2020 in mind as a way of future-proofing your investment! Check that any recent improvements have been done according to the current regulations, to avoid having to get them done again further down the line.  And think about any improvements that still need making, to be sure that your budget is realistic (creating energy positive buildings usually requires additional initial layout). 

Even if you’re not a permanent resident in France and are not, therefore, entitled to any financial aid, there’s still good reason for making sure your house is as environmentally sound as possible (aside from the planet-saving aspect, of course!). Consider the day when you want to sell it, for example. Someone will be round to conduct a ‘diagnostic performance energie’ (DPE) and a low rating could result in a low selling price.

French residents who are renovating or building a house

  • If you’re planning to build or renovate a house any time beyond Summer 2021, it will have to adhere to the RT2020 regulations – if it doesn’t, you won’t be given a Certificate of Conformity, and you’ll get a less than favourable ‘diagnostic de performance énergétique’ (DPE) – something you’ll need when it comes to selling the house one day.
  • Your project manager or builder will need to submit detailed plans when applying for a ‘Permit de construire’ – these will tell the people involved in the actual construction exactly what must be done for the building to adhere to the RT2020 regulations.
  • If you’re hiring artisans to help you with your project, then it would be wise to use RGE registered artisans (those who have had official training regarding the type of work they do and how it relates to RT2020), to be sure that the building conforms to the regulations. Hiring RGE registered artisans will also allow you to apply for financial help / state aid in the form of advantageous loans, MaPrimeRénov, tax credits , Energy Saving bonuses, etc.

French artisans

  1. Need extra work? You can be sure that becoming RGE registered will bring you plenty of new customers. By hiring an RGE registered artisan, homeowners are entitled to financial aid in the form of grants and loans. Check out the ‘Confédération de l’Artisanat et des Petites Entreprises du Bâtiment’ (CAPEB) website to find out what kind of training you need for your particular trade. But be prepared for more paperwork, too. EcoPower joint-owner Lindsey Elliott says the scheme has been a double-edged sword for them:

“Since becoming RGE registered, we’ve seen a huge increase in enquiries, which is great. The downside is that there’s a lot of admin to go with those jobs, because we’re always having to do calculations to prove that the equipment we supply will have a positive effect on the inhabitants’ energy use. We also get a few timewasters – people who want a new pellet boiler for a euro (something that’s possible with a government grant), but who’ve done nothing to reduce their energy waste, which makes the installation of a pellet burner entirely futile.”

  • Becoming RGE registered also means you’re less likely to find yourself in breach of the regulations and at risk of decennial liability!

Keeping an eye on the future…

As the name suggests, this new law was originally due to come into effect at the end of 2020. But with a lot of building work put on hold during the pandemic, that date has been moved to July 2021 to give companies more time to adjust – which means you’ve got a little bit more time to get to grips with how it could affect you. We’ll keep you posted with as much up to date information as we can, so make sure you’ve signed up to our newsletter and follow us on social media.